KENTWOOD – Nonah Waldron has run in all kinds of challenging conditions, but nothing like this.
The Oak Park sophomore pushed aside tough headwinds which all runners struggled with to win a pair of events at Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Girls Track & Field Finals at East Kentwood.
Waldron said she's run in heat, freezing cold and soaking rain, but never has she met up with the strong winds that buffeted Falcons Stadium. The conditions didn't seem to detract from the results, however, as she swept to victories the 100 hurdles (13.72) and 300 hurdles (43.17). The 100 hurdles time was seventh-best in state history.
"I fought them the whole races," Waldron said of the wind. "It was more mental than physical. My mind was where it was supposed to be – focused and believing in myself. But it was harder, a challenge."
Waldron said the wind wasn't going to keep her from success.
"It was definitely my goal," she said of winning twice. "I ran a 13.4 at nationals in Oregon, so I knew I had a chance."
Waldron helped Oak Park to the team championship with 86 points. Detroit Renaissance was runner-up with 62 points, and Ann Arbor Huron third with 45.
Oak Park coach Brandon Jiles said his team has been eyeing Saturday’s championship for months. Last season was canceled due to COVID-19, but Saturday’s win ran Oak Park’s title streak to three and six over the last seven seasons.
"Excellence is part of our tradition, and the kids work hard. We put a lot of work into this," he said. "We battled through adversity and made up for missing last year. We've been tough and resilient, and I think that improved our chances this year."
While the conditions were rugged for all runners, Birmingham Seaholm senior Audrey DaDamio had a fantastic meet in winning the 800 (2:11.95), 1,600 (4:44.38) and 3,200 (10:22.11). She now owns school records in the 1,600 and 3,200 and is second in the 800.
DaDamio, headed to Stanford this fall, said a clean sweep of all three events has been a goal since a successful indoor season.
"It's been something I've been looking to do all season. I thought, 'Why not?'" she said. "My season has had some ups and downs since I came off the indoor season (and indoor state record) which blew my mind. But I didn't feel like I have been able to showcase my talent in some races (this spring). That's been tough."
DaDamio said she felt strong after the 1,600 and despite temperatures in the high 80s, winning two more events seemed possible.
"I thought the bigger the risk, the bigger the reward," she said. "If I lead in a race, fine. If not, I just relax. I had confidence."
Kaila Jackson of Detroit Renaissance was also a double winner, capturing the 100 (11.70) and 200 (24.01). Jackson said she doesn't necessarily have an opinion as to which race is stronger for her.
"They are pretty much the same," she said. "The wind held me back, but you've still got to be out there pumping your arms. Considering the wind, times weren't as fast, but it was still tough. I train hard in both events and I'm pretty strong. It's a challenge.
"I thought I had a chance because I've trained so hard. I looked at the times and thought I could do well."
Among the other winners were Lincoln Park's Karrington Gordon, who won the high jump in 5-7. Gordon, who will play basketball next season at Central Michigan, was only a ninth seed in the high jump – which she said prompted extra effort.
"I wanted to prove them wrong," she said. "I did 5-7 and a quarter three weeks ago, so I knew I wasn't far off. I knew there was good competition, and I knew I had to be ready."
Among the other individual champions were Traverse City's Leah Doezema in the discus (145-4), Sophia Mettes of Dexter in the pole vault (12-6), Opal Jackson of Macomb L'Anse Creuse North in the shot put (47-3), Alaina Diaz of Hudsonville in the long jump (19-9) and Jada Roundtree of Oak Park in the 400 (55.13).
Among the relays, Renaissance won the 800 (1:36.99) and the 400 (45.56) while Ann Arbor Pioneer won the 3,200 (9:09.43) and Oak Park the 1,600 (3:46.63).
PHOTOS: (Top) Oak Park, led by double winner Nonah Waldron (far right) dominated both hurdles races Saturday at East Kentwood. (Middle) Birmingham Seaholm’s Audrey DaDamio celebrates one of her three championships. (Below) Oak Park climbs the champion’s podium for the third straight season. (Action photos by Ike Lea; team photos by John Brabbs/RunMichigan.com.)
BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City.
As she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore.
“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.
“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.”
Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team.
“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.”
Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.
Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled.
“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind.
“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said.
Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.
“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.
“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.”
Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness.
“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.”
Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season.
“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.”
Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor.
“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.”
The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear.
She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do.
“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.”
Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture.
“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.”
Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)